A sense of abundance

Kim Partridge By Kim Partridge
Uploaded 04 March 2019

Interior designer Kim Partridge looks at the changing nature of luxury in the hospitality space.

Time was when a luxury hotel was defined by its array of fine furnishings, discreet service and, maybe, by a highly rated restaurant. The hotel was meant to bestow an aura of glamour and sophistication upon its guests, not least because a stay came with a price tag that was affordable only to the few. The experience was very pleasant, somewhat predictable and perhaps a little superficial.

Fast forward to today, and the meaning of luxury has become a lot more nuanced. When we are travelling so much more than we once did, the same hotel interiors the world over really will not do, however opulent the ceilings and deep veined the marble.

Moreover, we are probably living with aspects of hotel design in our homes, adopted from what we have seen in the hotels where we've stayed, and really would like something different, aka 'better', when we are away. At the same time, a lot of us, especially the millennial generation, are no longer comfortable with old-school service levels that can seem too formal or servile in this day and age. So, if hotels can no longer define themselves as luxurious simply by virtue of their opulent interior styling, restaurant dress code, fashion house toiletries and the like, how do they make their mark as a top-end hotel today?

To my mind, experience has clearly replaced stuff, which is not to say that things, both decorative and functional, have ceased to matter. However, it does mean that the design vision and everything that expresses it needs to be authentic. Authenticity in its turn means localisation, giving the hotel its particular sense of place in the history and culture of the location as well as in the geography, and last but not least, the design should touch all the senses. Combine these with a guest service that is focused on the individual guest, and hotels are offering a luxury experience to meet, or surpass, contemporary expectations.

The great thing is that this can be achieved by tiny hotels in remote locations as much as by landmark hotels surrounded by tourist hot-spots. People no longer want to do what everyone else does; they want their own experience of the locality and the hotel they are staying in; they want to gain meaningful insight into the place where they are staying and this in part is provided by meeting, or at least observing, local people. Consequently, designers have had to turn their thinking on its head.

Rather than creating walls to protect guests from the outside world, they are now creating bridges to bring it in - bars that locals choose to frequent, restaurants with street entrances, lobbies where staying guests and walk-in visitors can mingle, as well as work by local artists and craftsmen, menus centred on locally grown produce, even scents that boast local provenance. In fact, I am a huge believer in the power of aromas; too often overlooked, the sense of smell is embedded deeply in our memories.

Our homes are authentic to us; in numerous ways, they contain our memories. The authenticity of a hotel experience is a different matter; it is not about 'us' - the hotel guest - but about 'you' - the place in which we are staying. People want to discover and learn when they travel and designers have a fundamental responsibility to help them do this.

Recently, I was privileged to redesign the public areas and bedrooms at Adare Manor, the world-famous golf resort destination in Limerick. In the 1830s, the estate was owned by the Dunraven family who commissioned the likes of AWN Pugin, pioneer of the gothic revival style of architecture, to design their imposing new residence.

Our project involved seeping myself in the history of the Dunraven family and in the architectural inheritance of the house, sourcing some 3,000 antique books, touring flea markets with the client, trawling through auction catalogues and collaborating with so many wonderful Irish artisans and manufacturers. We wanted to give guests the sense that they were staying in a country home inspired by Lady Caroline Dunraven's love of collecting while she made her Grand Tour of Europe.

As was typical of the neo-Gothic movement, layers of pattern now weave themselves throughout the fabric of the building while religious influences were taken from both Pugin's design ethos and from Philip Charles Hardwick (architect for the Dunravens) who had excerpts from the Bible painted on the kitchen walls to motivate staff during their daily chores!  The result is an eclectic interior with a touch of drama.

Restoring and repurposing was a huge element in the interior project, a natural approach given the historic building, but also sustainable and at the same time offering guests the opportunity for added discoveries. We used traditional, natural fabrics from Irish and English suppliers, some designed specifically for the project, and classical designs were chosen or adapted to give a contemporary flair. The furniture, for example, is a compendium of original Adare antiques and thoughtful reproductions of neo-Gothic design including, in the Grand Hall, a pair of bespoke desks, their design influenced by a Pugin desk that sits in the Palace of Westminster.

The soul of Adare Manor is grandiose; it should inspire awe and respect but not - in today's world - a sense of obeisance. Far from it! Indeed, the moment when I felt the design team had done their job was when I saw a guest, surrounded by all the amplified opulence of the Grand Hall, sink into an armchair and kick her shoes off. The environment was authentic and certainly could only belong in Ireland, and here was the guest feeling able to experience it to full, without the aggravation of uncomfortable footwear.

So, luxury has become about what guests want and that is often 'grittier' than it was in the past. We are currently working on a project at the Royal Norwich Golf Club, which is exciting exactly because the client is determined to make the venue very different from other golf club experiences. Amongst other features, there will be a local micro-brewery, a micro-bakery and a demonstration kitchen for chefs to lead cookery classes. The aim is not to create the grandest golf club in the country, but it is to deliver the luxury of relaxed times with family and friends in an environment uniquely belonging to the city of Norwich. I call that a sense of abundance.

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